Mick Doherty: In response to Question from David Porush

In this essay, I will offer a concrete definition of hypertext which situates my approach (briefly) in terms of what has been offered elsewhere; explain some of the specific changes we must make in how we approach communication and knowledge-making within this approach to hypertext; and later, discuss the possibilities for a core curriculum writing course that takes advantage of hypertext technologies.


Hypertext Reading List
Answer Deery/Zappen | Answer LeFevre
Exam Questions | Introduction

I have encountered, literally, dozens of different definitions of "hypertext," and subdivisions of the different "brands," or "types" of hypertext. Most of these are simple tweaks on the definition offered by Ted Nelson, who coined the term in 1965: non-sequential writing with reader-controlled links. (Actually, this is his 1990 update on the original definition, which had no reference to "reader-controlled links.") Others make more sweeping generalizations -- about "hypertextual thinking" that is not technology-dependent (see for instance Smith, 1994), or much more narrow specifications such as "the World-Wide Web is *not* hypertext" (Joyce, 1996 presentation to MAACW Conference).

For my specific purposes in this essay, while recognizing that there is validity in both narrowing or expanding the definitional boundaries in other venues, I am accepting Nelson's definition with the caveat that hypertext, as I will be discussing it, is *technology-dependent,* that it is a computer-based means of constructing written discourse, and that while we may be starting to redefine what we mean when we talk about "text," for my purposes I mean primarily alphabetic text. "Hypertext" and "Hypermedia" are not interchangeable terms (though Neilsen, for one, uses them as such): hypertext involves nodes ("lexia"), links, and a focus on written communication. Other media may be involved, but are not forefronted; in hypermedia or multimedia platforms, alphabetic text may not even be a part of the equation.

I refuse to work in a binary situation where hypertext <> linear text; as long as we are engaging alphabetic communication, there will be a distinctly linear approach to imparting knowledge through communication. However, when I am discussing "hypertext," I am referring primarily to what Moulthrop has termed "native hypertext," that is, communication written in and for access through the technology provided by hypertext, and which can not truly be committed to the printed page in a linear fashion.

Given the above, two of the key elements of hypertext (the technology) are:

  • the writing takes place in a series of interdependent nodes, or lexia, connected via "links" on which a reader can "click" to move away from the lexia at hand;
  • a hypertext is multi-layered; in no *obvious* way can a reader tell if every node has been visited, every link clicked, every part of the particular web's spaces seen -- whereas, with a book, even if you skip around, you can see where you have not been, and you always know how far away "the end" is. In hypertext, there is no clear "overview" of the text.

Finally, I should admit to my own "default" definition of "hypertext." While there are many different "brands" of hypertextual writing space, when I am referring to "hypertext," I am almost always referring precisely to the kind of hypertext enabled by HTML (and its add-ons) on the World- Wide Web (WWW). I will discuss some of the reasons I believe this to be appropriate at a later time in this essay.

Given this specific definition of hypertext, there are a number of key differences between hypertextual and "conventional" communication and knowledge-building.

I put "conventional" in quotes precisely because it is a term that could need as much defining (or more) than "hypertext," and is a slippery slope toward the binarism I hope to avoid. I am presuming, given the second part of this question, that "conventional communication" refers specifically to the kinds of *writing* we have been teaching in our composition (and other similar) classes. These would include, in my experience (nine years teaching, including junior high, high school, college and graduate-level courses), the standard argumentative essay, the research paper, the summary and abstract, the response paper, the technical report, and other similarly-structured "conventional" writing spaces.


Response?

I should point out that *all* of these styles of writing are still *possible* within a hypertextual environment like the WWW (i.e. a writing course upweb need not "abandon" the traditional modes); however, the webbed technology also provides for *other* possibilities. In fact, there have been arguments presented (by McGann; Dobrin; and in some ways, Tuman) that the only thing hypertextual technology provides to the writing classroom is *speed,* and that this is not always a good thing; that the writing we are doing online is precisely the same kind of writing we've always been doing, except some of the processes (linking for footnotes, etc.) are faster. I believe that this argument boils down to the fact that written communication is inherently *inter*textual (Porter 1986); since I agree with that assertion, I would simply say, then, that hypertext is the physical, technological instantiation of intertextuality. Lunsford (1996, "What Matters?") explicitly states that she hopes hypertextual technology will provide the academy with the realization of intertextual discourse. Hypertext-as-intertext, then, *allows for* (though does not *demand*) a different kind of approach to the act of writing; in allowing for different approaches, hypertext can profoundly affect the way we understand how we know things -- i.e. it is a tool which hastens a possible epistemological shift in human communication.

Staying within the boundaries of how I have defined "hypertext" and "conventional text," I believe the best way to categorize this shift in perception is that we can and in some cases must move from the kinds of writing which explicate "here's what I know" to other kinds of writing which demonstrate "Here are ways I manage information which represents what might be known by us." We move from Explication (this is the answer) to demonstration (this is an answer); we move from linear argument (the essay) to shared space between author and reader. We move, to use Johnson-Eilola's (1996) metaphor, from telling stories to drawing maps. A story is told in sequence, and an audience hears it all; a map is drawn to give a user opportunities to explore with some direction. I believe an efficient way to demonstrate the shift in how knowledge is made and shared from the standards of the old media to the possibilities of the new ones, would be to examine some of the traditional terms we utilize in our role as writing instructor, and how those terms are being reconfigured or (at times) even replaced. Given the "conventional" structure of *this* writing space, I have even endeavored to present these terms in an order that would make traditional sense in examining or assessing a traditional essay.

  1. Text This is a term that is not really even considered in the traditional presentational modes; "what do you mean by text?" would be met with a series of blank stares. Perhaps we might stretch it to be asking what font size of text is being utilized (though I believe that relates more directly to "structure," below), or perhaps we could ask what "style" of writing -- fiction, poem, essay -- is being utilized.

    With a hypertextual platform, the question is meaningful. Even given my caveat above that I mean "hypertext" to mean precisely "alphabetic text," it is worth noting that many hypertext theorists (Bolter, 1991; Lanham, 1993) conflate "text" with "any visual image that conveys meaning. A marvelous example of a "hypertext" with almost no words is Krause's (1996) "Surveying the Body Electric."

  2. Essay

    A number of authors have loudly proclaimed the "death of the essay." (My favorite example is Baldwin's 1996 "Essay-A-Sauras" in RhetNet.) This may be so; it does not mean, however, that essay-type writing is dead. In classes such as "Writing to the WWW" here at RPI, assignments are referred to as "webtexts," forefronting the larger context in which they will appear. Some of these assignments are startlingly essay-like, not Moulthropian native hypertext at all; but it is appearing on the WWW. It is linkable, and accessible, and a part of a larger whole. In a way it is like the leader of a graduate seminar saying "write a conference paper" as opposed to "write a paper for this class." I may assign precisely the same writing task to two groups of students; if I call one an "essay" it carries with it the baggage of writing courses past, the pseudotransactional writing to the teacher-construct; if I call it a webtext, that spins a different reality on the task at hand.


    Response?

  3. Author

    This is probably the singlemost disparaged term of the traditional writing milieu by those engaging in postmodern hypertext theory. (Incidentally, I am not comfortable with the rather consistent conflation of hypertext theory and postmodernism -- Bolter 1991, Delany and Landow 1990, Landow 1992, Johnson-Eilola 1994, , Moulthrop and Kaplan 1994 -- but it is a consistent refrain.)

    While I do not hold to the "death of the author" either as reality or as a positive potentiality, it is reasonable to expect our students to abandon the traditional concept of "author" as hierarchical all-knowing knowledge-imposer. If we instead point them to a role as "contributor," or "conversationalist" in the Burkean Parlor sense, we can remove some of the anxiety that is felt by students who don't believe they have anything worth saying. This almost precisely mirrors the shift in #2 above, from "essay" to "webtext" -- part of a larger whole, finding an appropriate place as one voice among many, rather than having to act as some hypothetical authoritative author-construct.

  4. Audience/Reader

    There are, of course, hundreds of books and articles about the "audience" concept in rhetorical theory and writing pedagogy (many of them are on my Invention & Audience reading list); they often come back to the idea that the author must "imagine" some construct of "real reader." In the most optimistic takes on hypertext -- and Johnson-Eilola (1997)notes that with few exceptions, these are the only offered ! -- we hear that hypertext denies authorial control, not only allowing but requiring the reader to re-write the text in the act of reading, to (in essence) become the writer. Landow (1994) suggests the term "wreader" to refer to both the former author construct and the former audience construct.

    This, too, is a bit optimistic for my taste; a more realistic approach is presented by Chauss (1996) who introduced compositionists to the field of Human/Computer Interaction and rather elegantly suggests we re-paint our "audience" from "reader" into "user." This reminds the author (above) who is placing her text into the conversation that the possible recipients of that text are also utilizing a hypertext *technology* -- and it may not use the same kind of interface. The writing space (below) is suddenly at least as important as the written content.


    Response?

  5. Structure of the writing

    This traditional concept is completely revised and revamped; it may not go away completely (recall, we are still capable of writing the traditional expository essay in webspace, and thus should retain some knowledge of the transition and paragraphing), but it is now crucial that we begin to "see" the directions we are writing in hypertext. We must retain some larger picture of the "terrain" of our structure that was one limited to "the page." Now we are not only responsible for the structure of the writing, but the structure of the writing *space.*

    This structure is what Joyce refers to as the "contour" of the writing; the contour may change with each reading (perhaps "interface" would be a better term) with each user, but it is in the following of the contour that meaning is purportedly made (1992, "Contours").

  6. Argument

    Related precisely to the above point; traditional argumentative (enthymematic) structures are not feasible in hypertext because the user is capable of going in any number of directions. (It is possible, of course, to tightly control user-interface, give only Next/Back/Home buttons, but this would take the writing outside the realm of native hypertext and make it more what Moulthrop has referred to as "incunabala.")


    Response?

  7. Coherence, Clarity, Theme

    These are terms writing teachers often discuss with students when looking "holistically" at written texts. As an alternative to these for hypertexts, Collins (1996, unpublished manuscript) has offered the terms "Usability, Relevance, Control." We can see echoes of some of the above points already in these new categories. Collins claims "Control" is the ability of the user to decide her own path (see above, "Argument"); Usability is essentially the navigability of the hypertext (how well it is *mapped*); and Relevance is, more or less, what reason does the user have to stay there? (This last is the most individually varied, but Collins does point out that it is the responsibility of the author to make relevance clear up front -- in what we might once have called the "Introduction" ...)


    Reading Lists
    Answer Deery/Zappen | Answer LeFevre
    Exam Questions < b>| Introduction

  8. Introduction and/or Conclusion

    In a native hypertext, these terms are utterly meaningless. While most webtexts do have nominal "front nodes" (CMC Magazine)or "bridge pages" (Kairos), in the larger context of the WWW it is often impossible to guess at what point a user will be joining you; a search engine may lead her to the "middle" (another nonsensical term) of a webtext. Equally, we have no assurance that a reader will necessarily even *know* he has found the "end" of a hypertext; saving all our conclusions to one "final node" is thus not feasible, as it may be in a papertext. (Of course, there are "backdoors" you can code in to take care of this -- having a "Jump to the Conclusions" node at the bottom of every other node is one, but that seems to defeat the purpose of native hypertext as a whole.)

  9. Paragraphing; sentence-level grammar

    Sentence-level grammar is still relatively translatable from conventional media to hypertext; in fact, one of the great complaints of technophobes is that writers no longer pay careful attention to grammar in electronic spaces, thus making it harder to understand than it already is due to the shift in medium. I would not argue this point. However, in hypertext, "paragraphing" gives way to what we might call "Lexial variance and consistency." Each lexia (or "node" -- the terms can be used interchangeably) in a hypertext is in an important way a "standalone" document. Authors must seek some happy compromise between varying them in appearance and length, and keeping them consistent enough for a user's comfort. This is not altogether different from when we tell our students to try a little sentence combining to get away from the overused S-V-O sentence structure.


    Response?

  10. Transitions

    The nearest analogous term in hypertext is, obviously, the "link." Deciding what to link to where, how to structure the larger map, what to use as the link base (see Siering, 1996) -- all of these things are part of what is probably the key skill in learning to write hypertextually. Joyce calls it "writing at the interstices" (1995), being able to picture the place between the lexia as a real space for making meaning, all the while realizing that while we may be building those spaces, it is the reader- user's act of travelling (or choosing not to travel) them that actually is the epistemic act. Douglas (in Perforations), Rosenberg (also n Perforations), Slatin (1990), Harpold (1991), as well as Joyce and Moulthrop have forefronted the act of linking as the key to reading hypertext; and as we collapse the identities of the reader-user and author, that suggests it is also the key to writing with it -- and teaching it.


    Hypertext Reading List
    Answer Deery/Zappen | Answer LeFevre
    Exam Questi ons

  11. References

    This final point -- we might also introduce bibliography, works cited, footnotes, and endnotes as subsumed in this category -- relates directly to the point above in #10, and also manages to take us all the way back to the beginning of the list where Lunsford was hoping hypertext might provide instantiated intertext. The ability to directly link to another source, to (in a sense) actually include it in your own writing, is one of the great benefits and challenges to writing in hypertext. In a way, it gives you the chance to point the reader to precisely where you have been to get your information; in another way it may inadvertantly challenge the reader to decode the reference and why it is linked, making the reading task that much more difficult, and the responsibility of the writer that much more precise. For instance, in #7 above, when introducing Collins' terms, if this were an upweb writing task, I could have simply written,

    For alternatives to these terms, see also Collins.

    Which would have left the reader no clue as to what the terms were, what they meant, or how they related to the argument at hand. It is using the reference-link as an excuse for uncareful writing.

    I suppose I could continue to list terms and describe how they are part of the different kind of knowledge-making available in hypertext. (In fact, I believe I have been using several -- interface, platform, application -- which have no clear antecedent or related terms in conventional text- writing.) What I have attempted to accomplish with this listing is an overview of the different skills both available and (at times) required of writers in hypertextual environments.

    As I begin the next section of this essay, wherein I suggest principles for designing a writing course which takes maximum advantage of hypertext, I believe you will see these same skill sets and epistemic approaches reflected in that design.


    The question at hand asks me to "Suggest and defend principles for designing a writing course to take maximum advantage of hypertext while fulfilling the goals of a college composition course." I must, first, admit that I don't particularly buy into the traditional concept of the college composition curriculum, and so will be approaching this answer from a slightly different direction.

    In a sense, it makes more sense to offer a hypertext-centered, technology-based writing class here at RPI than, for instance, at Texas Woman's University. I use this example because it is a school I am familiar with; my fiancee teaches there, and I have guest-taught in her writing class. This issue comes down to the mission of the university and technological access; while she is absolutely as capable as I am of teaching in a computer-mediated environment, and unequivocally knows more than me about both hardware and coding, her access to computer labs for teaching (and for student work outside class), the base experience of her students with technology, the majors primarily pursued at the school (education, nursing, business), and the varied importance the administration (at all levels) places either on A) computers or B) the English department's access to them, all affect what might be considered when designing such a class. For that matter, the basic composition requirement at TWU is probably different (and probably should be) than it is here at RPI.

    Nonetheless, I believe that "composition" as a service class to the academy as a whole is passe. Not necessarily because of hypertext technology, but because people are finally realizing that nobody, anywhere, will ever write the five-paragraph essay or the MLA research paper anywhere but in the first-year comp class. We've talked about abandoning Expository Writing at RPI; perhaps we should. (This is hyperbolic to some extent; all universities will need Basic writing classes and TESOL classes that engage the language exterior to the technology.) Our movements here toward other options -- The WAC-inspired Writing Intensive Program, Writing to the Web, Writing for Electronic Media, are all legitimate ideas, especially given the disciplinary makeup of our undergraduate student body.


    Response?

    That said, I submit that over the next few years, our "Expository" level classes will begin to look a lot more like Technical & Professional Communication; that our Tech/Pro classes will look a lot more like Writing for Electronic Media; that classes like "Writing for the Web" and "Writing Online" will utterly disappear for same reason we don't have classes called "Writing with the Mac" or (retro) "Writing with a Pen." (Again, I admit to some hyperbole to make a point!)

    Maybe the class here at RPI could be called "Writing for Professional Environments." It would not abandon completely the papertext (nor does Tech/Pro do that now); but it would also be *expected* to incorporate the interactive media, electronic mail, and whatever the WWW has turned into in the year 2003.

    We would be teaching our students the skills of "mapping" (as described above, Johnson-Eilola's replacement term for "storytelling") and "toggling" (being able to exist in varied writing environments, if not simultaneously, then at least concurrently). We would need to begin such a class -- for now -- as a *reading* class, allowing students to familiarize themselves with the visual topoi of electronic space, and the contours and interstices of making meaning with hypertext. In learning to read, they are learning the situation where they hope to enter the discourse, and observing how other people have done so.

    I say "for now" because it is possible -- even probable -- that quite soon, maybe by this fictional Spring 2003 Writing for Professional Environments class, that college students -- let me amend that to "college students of the sort we encounter at RPI" -- will enter the class already web-savvy and hypertext-literate, as readers. At a different university, with a different student population or different academic mission, that time might come earlier, or later -- but I am fairly sure it will come. To provide anecdotal evidence: I recall sitting in the office of a professor at the University of Michigan who was teaching a Storyspace-based class, talking to him while his seven-year-old son played at the PowerMac in the office. As the boy effortlessly zoomed around the WWW, bookmarking places to return to later, the professor chuckled (and sighed, a little) and said "sometimes I think *he* should be teaching this class!


    Response?

    How would this course be an improvement over conventional composition courses? I have what might be read as a cynical answer to that question, but it is an honest one; a writing course utilizing hypertext technology truly enables us to practice many of the things the academy supposedly already accepts as being valuable to writing pedagogy. Enables what we already believe to be important; this is both a positive and negative; it limits what we see as possible; consider the primary commonplaces of the social constructionist, writing classroom:

    • collaboration;
    • writing across the curriculum;
    • process superceding product;
    • decentralization of the classroom.

    All of these have already been mentioned as being proclaimed as benefits of the hypertextual classroom. To focus on one example, Eyman (1996) looks closely at "Hypertext and/as Collaboration." He is at least sensible enough to note that *if* we want to approach collaborative writing in our classroom, then hypertext can enable us to do so in new and exciting ways. I wonder, though, if it is precisely because we believe these approaches to writing are valuable that we are finding ways hypertext enables them, and if we were still rooted in product-oriented essays, if we might not be extolling hypertext for its possibilities as a database management system?

    Of course, hypertext *is* that as well -- a database management system. Johnson-Eilola (1997) notes that for some reason, in the humanities, the searchable-database hypertext is not seen as being "as worthy" of study as the supposedly innovative fiction. But, really, what is more valuable to our students? Learning to write multilinear fiction, or learning to process and present information (in a world now information- overloaded) in an accessible, clear way? I am not suggesting that Composition should give way entirely to MIS classes; however, this is another component of the Professional Writing Classroom which I already incorporate; I would like to see the model pursued further. I believe students entering the workforce now are better equipped to survive in situational professional communication when they have had experience in electronic environments where the situational context of a writing task must be studied, entered into, and physically structured.

    But, within all the mapping and toggling and linking and space- building and information management (etc.) the key component of this writing classroom still must be to allow our students to explore how to create *meaningful* spaces. Bernstein (qtd. in Moulthrop, 1996) proclaimed at Hypertext 96 "Surfing is dead. We must have spaces with meaning." And this is why the "writing" part of the "writing class" still can refer back to our "conventional" definition of textual production and presentation. Just this week on ACW-L, there was a discussion prompted by a question which asked "What do you think of the rhetorical value of a webpage which is just a list of links to other webpages?" There was a spirited debate which used as its example the common "Friends" homepage (as in the TV show, not the "these are people I know" pages). There are dozens of pages on the WWW dedicated to the TV show; many of them are simply a list of links to other pages ... some of which are simply a list of links ... ad infinitum. It is possible to "surf" through these pages for quite some time before actually encountering any *content.*


    Response?

    There is a defensible argument that the "rhetorical value" of these pages is as a statement of belonging to and situating oneself in a community of "Fans of Friends." I do not dispute that. But the value of the *written product* is far more in question. In a writing class, can a student claim "authorship" (another ugly term I have not had time to address here) of a page which is essentially code-only? My answer -- partly because I believe it would be the administration's answer -- is "of course not." So within the learning of "the writing space," there is still plenty of room for traditional inventional heuristics and writing strategies; they do not go away, as I mentioned at the outset -- the possibilities are simply expanded, as are (in many senses) the responsibilities of what we have been hesitating to call the "author."

    Even as I have been presenting, above, what I see as the goals and opportunities of such a writing class, it has been easy to see that there are possible problems at hand. Along with those already mentioned -- computer access, student population and demographics, goals of the university, etc. -- there are other specific possible problems. For instance, there is a real danger that they can turn into "coding classes." This is a subject for frequent discussion on lists like ACW-L and RhetNet-L; are we teaching writing when we're teaching coding? At some level, the answer is yes -- we are teaching students how to build writing spaces. But if we invest two weeks of our semester in learning how to build a clickable image map or how to make a Java applet, and our students have no idea what the difference between a comma and a semi- colon is, then we are investing too much of ourselves into the technology and not enough into what the technology enables us to do with what we already know.


    Response?

    I also believe there is an administrative/accreditation problem (in a way this relates all the way back to my first question yesterday about tenure and promotion). One of the primary problems with discussing the issue of re-designing our writing curriculum so it incorporates a hypertextual element (much less so it be re-designed to forefront this approach!) is the lack of data available regarding what happens in the hypertext classroom. to and by the writer of a hypertextual document, and within a group of students or classes working together. To date, the data that is available is, without exception, anecdotal (for an overview of this problem, see DeWitt, 1996). It is difficult to sell the idea to administrators without such data; it is, more importantly, exceedingly difficult to be always re-building our writing curriculum without some idea of what "standards" appear to work.

    There are at least two possible reasons for this lack of data. aside from the fact that the advent of the webbed (and Webbed) writing classroom is still less than a decade old, and there are no real "protocols" for assessing what is happening

    First, I believe it's conceiveable that the case study may be the natural means for discussing hypertext in pedagogy. While we may note that we are lacking "data" beyond the case study (as above), perhaps our need for such data is rooted in the "conventional" model of communication. When we were teaching our students to write "the five paragraph essay" utilizing "the inverted pyramid" style of argument, we had models to point to for which we could say "do that!" Now our models are more simply (or complexly?) "This worked well. Why do you think that's so? What can you learn from it?"

    If we are teaching students to first recognize a rhetorical situation and then enter into the conversation by building a writing space specific to the task they see, then traditional modelling does not work. In my original "Writing to the Web" class I recall showing the class the Lunsford (et al) webtext in _Kairos_ 1.1 and immediately hearing the question, "So, we should do *that*?" Even in the nascent social-constructionist writing classroom, we could assess writing with ghastly terms like "t-unit" and, even while claiming to favor process over product, discuss the quality of the writing in terms that would have been accessible to Alexander Bain: introduction, coherence, transition. As we have seen above, these do not translate easily into hypertextual writing.

    If we were to start teaching the "five-lexia webtext" or the "Moulthropian model of hyper-composition," we would be missing the point; if we even partially hold hope for the largely unsubstantiated claims of Landow (1992) that hypertext simultaneously reconfigures the student, the teacher, the curriculum, the text, and the time of writing, as well as those postmodern claims that it decenters the classroom and individuates the writing space, then perhaps we need to abandon out traditional means of studying writing and the teaching of writing, and of collecting data. Landow, after all, did precisely what I have described -- made claims based on a single case-study (and later a couple of other similar studies) conducted with his students; and yet I have comfortably dismissed his work as "unsubstantiated." I am bringing expectations from the old paradigm of communication into this newer one.


    Response?

    I suppose another issue I have with Landow -- and this relates back to the lager issue of "what are some of the possible pitfalls of this classroom" is that his studies are brand-specific. This is something I referred to at the outset of this essay, and is the second possible reason for the lack of data available.

    The case studies we do see published are,inevitably, about a certain kind of hypertextual writing, and until the last 18 months, have inevitably been about "standalone" programs like Intermedia (Landow), Guide (McAleese), Dexter (J. Rosenberg), Hypercard (Atkinson, Levy, Nielsen, ACM), and of course Storyspace (promoted by the self-ordained "Eastgate School of Authors," including Moulthrop, Joyce, Greco, Douglas, Bolter, Johnson-Eilola, Bernstein, and others). There isn't even a terminology consistent across these platforms; to attempt to generalize from these case studies is to collapse the concept of "hypertext" unreasonably.

    Most of the people mentioned have moved toward webspace (that is, WWW) as a possibly partner, if not inevitable replacement for standalone software. (Moulthrop, at Hypertext 96, points out that Storyspace is the sole remaining platform from the infamous "Class of 87.") Most standalone software makers (those that remain) have even developed HTML Converters for their programs so hypertexts can be created locally and published upweb; the familiar "Created By Storyspace" logo is as common in upweb hypertext and hyperfiction class syllabi and projects as the Nike Swoosh is everywhere else on the planet; this may be in part due to the fact that many of the teachers of those classes are either of "the Eastgate School" or learned from someone who is of that cadre. Some have come kicking and screaming onto the Web; when I noted that Joyce recently claimed at a conference that the WWW is not hypertext, I should have added "he is correct." However -- and this is the reason that when I talk about hypertext platforms, I mean the WWW -- in many ways the WWW is an ideal hybrid for the writing instructor. Hypertext is *possible* but not *necessary* on the WWW; collaboration is possible but not necessary.

    The WWW is just as capable of supporting linear documents and complex graphics as parts of (or opposed to) native hypertext. There is, alternatively, no conceiveable reason to utilize Storyspace or Hypercard *unless* you are creating native hypertext, and it is exponentially more difficult to include non-traditional elements in the "text." Can you "toggle" back and forth between traditional linear text and hypertext in Storyspace? Realistically, the answer is "no." On the WWW, this is the *norm* -- and a skill our students must master. Encountering all levels of directional writing requires skill in recognizing it and reading it both within itself and within any context it is situated.

    I think it is quite possible that this "case study" approach to designing classes might benefit the individual department as well; I noted above the differences expected and perhaps required at schools as disparate as RPI and TWU, then proceeded to quickly sketch what a possible class might look like *at* RPI, appropriate to our situational context. In designing the classes, we are -- quite literally -- engaging precisely the same skill we are expecting of our students in having them write in hypertextual environments. Recognizing and reacting to the gap in the conversation.

    After my tenth (or so) iteration of "situational context," I cannot resist pointing out that the Greek term appropriate here is "kairos." I suppose my predisposition to that term has informed my answer here today.

    Finally, though I have but a moment or two remaining, I would be utterly remiss if I did not mention the political issues involved in a hypertext pedagogy. Selfe & Selfe have discussed the politics of the interface at length, and Johnson-Eilola's recently-released "Nostalgic Angels" (referenced throughout this essay) provides a careful consideration as well. And I would point out that on my two technology- based reading lists, of about 120 texts, over 90% were written by men; a higher percentage by Americans; and a higher percentage still by Anglos. Is that a pitfall of the hypertext writing classroom? Or is it in fact the forefronting of the technology that begins to collapse some of the borders and points to the inequity? That is an issue worth bringing up in class.


    Hypertext Reading List
    Answer Deery/Zappen | Answer LeFevre
    Exam Questi ons | Introduction

Comment:

Name:  Email: 

Responses:

Brice Matson
Wed Mar 5 00:32:11 CST 1997

Brice Matson
Wed Mar 5 00:49:16 CST 1997

Brice Matson
Wed Mar 5 01:15:57 CST 1997

Michael E. Doherty, Sr.
Wed Mar 5 22:56:48 CST 1997

Nick Carbone
Fri Mar 7 17:01:36 CST 1997

Nick Carbone
Sun Mar 9 10:53:49 CST 1997